Learning and memory are acutely intertwined. When you’re trying to learn new information, think in terms of mastering small chunks rather than an entire course or concept. Why? Because the typical human brain can hold only about seven pieces of information (in contrast to experiences) for less than 30 seconds. If you need to remember information for longer than a few minutes or even a few hours, you will need to continually re-expose yourself to it. That’s simply how learning and memory work.
Neuroscientists refer to this as “maintenance rehearsal.” This is a form of remembering information that involves focusing on an object without thought to its meaning or its association with other objects. For example, when you repeat a phone number over and over, you are using a form of maintenance rehearsal. This repetition will keep the information in short-term memory.
How to Make Learning and Memory More Effective
There are two effective ways to transfer the information from short-term memory to long-term memory: (1) elaborate rehearsal and (2) timed repetition.
- Elaborate rehearsal is a process in which you relate new material to information already stored in long-term memory. Using the example of a phone number, you might associate the numbers with dates that are personally significant, such as your birthday. Or perhaps you might see a pattern in the numbers that helps you to remember them.
- Timed, or spaced, repetition is when you repeat the exposure of information at specific intervals. With this learning technique, you increase the intervals of time between each review. Although the principle is useful in many contexts, spaced repetition is commonly applied when you need to remember a large number of items and retain them indefinitely in memory. For example, timed repetition works well for vocabulary acquisition in the course of second language learning.
Of course, learning and memory is a complex topic. However, the point remains that learning occurs best when you incorporate new information gradually, rather than when you try to master it all at once.
How have you best incorporated new information to memory? Please share your comments on the Without Stress Facebook page.